OPPOSE the “Voluntary Water Partnership for Distressed Communities Act”
The Honorable John Barrasso
Chairman
Senate Environment & Public Works Committee
Washington D.C. 20510

The Honorable Tom Carper
Ranking Member
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Washington D.C. 20510


Dear Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper:

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly oppose the “Voluntary Water Partnership for Distressed Communities Act.” Despite the title, the bill will serve to coerce communities into privatizing their public water systems. It is inappropriate, unjust and unreasonable.

This bill provides inappropriate incentives for communities to privatize water systems while failing to ensure long-term compliance with drinking water quality standards. The bill would allow a water system with serious drinking water quality violations to avoid fines and penalties for those violations by privatizing the system through an asset sale or operations and management contract. While states should have the flexibility to help municipalities address water quality violations through public sector collaboration and municipalization of struggling private systems, large water corporations are more likely than public sector entities to exploit the changes and grants proposed in this bill. A large corporation will likely seek to use this enforcement preference as a hammer to force privatization on a community that would otherwise reject it.

This bill unjustly authorizes a privatized water system to provide unsafe water for three years. After privatizing, the water system has an additional three years to comply with federal regulations for drinking water quality before facing enforcement mechanisms. But even after this period of providing unsafe water, there are no additional penalties or any “strings attached” to ensure that the privatized system will comply in the future to provide safe water beyond the enforcement mechanisms that the existing system faces.

The bill unreasonably gives grants to support the expansion of a water corporation’s business. This waste of American taxpayer dollars will benefit primarily a small number of corporations, which operate only in a handful of states. Grant dollars should support only publicly owned or nonprofit systems and providers. Nearly 9 of out 10 Americans receive their tap water from a publicly owned system.

This bill wrongly assumes that privatization will necessarily improve water quality. In many cases, for systems large and small, private control of water systems has resulted in worse drinking water quality. For example, Pittsburgh’s water quality violations followed a chemical treatment change that occurred after the city hired a large multinational firm to provide management and consulting services. Similarly, in Oklahoma, a large international firm received the largest water quality fine in the state’s history for a laundry list of violations of federal and state law that occurred while it operated and managed the water system of the small city of Hugo.

Worse, this bill detracts from real solutions that can address the serious public health consequences of drinking water quality violations. Instead, you should support nonprofit technical assistance and robust grant funding for struggling water systems through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program. These are tried, true, proven and reliable ways to directly improve drinking water quality for Americans.

Sincerely,

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